Reading Toni Morrison's books is not something for the faint of heart. Her literature requires the reader to work for it, to struggle through sometimes uncomfortable prose or through gut-wrenching scenarios within the larger story. But, at the end, you have earned that story...you have achieved something. And, I've found that people either can't stand her books, or they love her books. There isn't any real middle-ground. I am part of the latter group. And especially for this book. I re-read it every year, and it is still new and gripping and passionate and brilliant every time.
I didn't care for this book and I couldn't summon up the desire to even finish reading it. Heavy use of symbolism. Incoherent and unrealistic at times. Perhaps the author did not intend for the book to be realistic but I believe it is important when you are representing an historical time period and the treatment of slaves. Completely turned me off reading anything else by Morrison.
This book recently was rated the best book of American Fiction written in the past 25 years. It is not light reading, and I honestly found some of the parts hard to follow. Not for the squeemish reader either-there are themes of rape and violence that are truthful, yet horrid.
On the other side, it's a provocotive look at life for slaves after the emancipation and the way that grief and pain manifest themselves for one mother.
Not the easiest read. In the beginning, I would have to keep going back to reread the previous page, to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. There's a lot to think about in this book. It was recently named the best American novel of the last 25 years. I'd say it's good, but not *that* good.
A complicated and painful book to read. I saw the movie before reading the book and think it might have been better the other way around.
It is a view of slavery that most whitefolk (of which I am one) don't want to remember and surely do not understand the depths of the depravity that the black people suffered at the white hands of our ancestors. I think that it would be a good book for high schoolers to read, even in class for discussion...this is information about an era in our country that people tend to gloss over. This book is not glossy.
A good read but be prepared to do the work of staying with the author and the characters...it's a bit of a challenge.
Set in Ohio--Sethe, a former slave, was sent to prison for killing her baby girl Beloved. Sethe intended to kill all of her children that night, to save them from a worse fate, but was only able to kill the two year old girl. The ghost of Beloved haunted Sethe's house until a man called Paul D. exorcised it. Then Beloved showed up in the body of a young white girl who came to live in the house with Sethe and her daughter Denver. This is a haunting story in more than one way...haunting and horrifying.
As with the ghost at its center, Beloved has taken many forms--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to Oprah Winfrey's decade-in-the-making movie to this challenging audiobook read by Lynn Whitfield. Whitfield, who won an Emmy Award playing the title role in The Josephine Baker Story, has a tough assignment as she guides us back and forth in time with Sethe, an escaped slave who's still shackled by memories of her murdered child
Sethe. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery but is haunted by her heritage ---- from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison's greatest novel --- a dazzling achievement and a spellbinding reading experience.
You saw the movie; you love Oprah; now read the book and get all the details that the movie just can't include. There is a reason that this is a celebrated book. Well worth reading, despite how disturbing it is.
I found it hard to read this book - the symbolisim is layed on with a crowbar - but it was at least more interesting to me than most of Tony Morrison's work. I found the character of Beloved to be the most interesting of the lot.
If you generally like Tony Morrison's work, I think you would like this one. If you're looking for lite reading, this is not your book.
An unbelievable book...it is mesmerizing, intense and deeply disturbing. It takes you into the world of slavery and beyond...into the minds of people enslaved and the results of that. Even beyond that. This is a must read book...never easy...but must read!
I heartwrenching novel which gave insight to places I would never see, and a portrait of a time that has always been ignored or dismissed in American History. Toni Morrison's most praised novel has its position for a reason.
SETHE. PROUD AND BEAUTIFUL, SHE ESCAPED FROM SLAVERY BUT IS HAUNTED BY ITS HERITAGE-FROM THE FIRES OF THE FLESH TO THE HEARTBREAKING CHALLENGES TO THE SPIRIT. SET IN RUAL OHIO SEVERAL YEARS AFTER THE CIVIL WAR, THIS PROFOUNDLY AFFECTING CHRONICLE OF SLAVERY AND ITS AFTERMATH IS TONI MORRISON'S GREATEST NOVEL- A DAZZELING ACHIEVEMENT AND SPELLBOUNDING READING EXPERIENCES.
This was a dark sort of read. A little disturbing, nothing but sad in the end. I didn't care for the high-ended writing style. It hindered the progress of the book for me and, ultimately, I sort of got through the book by getting the 'gist'. I'm glad I read it but wouldn't swim through so much verbage again for such little return. Perhaps a more intellectualy reader would disagree...?
When slavery has torn apart one's heritage, when the past is more real than the present, when the rage of a dead baby can literally rock a house, then the traditional novel is no longer an adequate instrument. And so Pulitzer Prize-winner Beloved is written in bits and images, smashed like a mirror on the floor and left for the reader to put together. In a novel that is hypnotic, beautiful, and elusive, Toni Morrison portrays the lives of Sethe, an escaped slave and mother, and those around her. There is Sixo, who "stopped speaking English because there was no future in it," and .... Baby Suggs, who makes her living with her heart because slavery "had busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue;" and Paul D, a man with a rusted metal box for a heart and a presence that allows women to cry. At the center is Sethe, whose story makes us think and think again about what we mean when we say we love our children or freedom. The stories circle, swim dreamily to the surface, and are suddenly clear and horrifying. Because of the extraordinary, experimental style as well as the intensity of the subject matter, what we learn from them touches at a level deeper than understanding.
This book was outstanding! Do not watch the Oprah movie especially before you read the book (I wouldn't watch it after either because I have seen it and the portrayal is awful) because it will ruin your entire perception of and love for the book.
Toni Morrison is one author who understands the heart and soul of a woman. Beloved is a journey of a mother and daughter like no other you will ever read about. I loved this book and won't ever forget the images brought to mind....love, loss, yearning, loyalty, and the road to self-discovery found in the most unlikely places. Open this book!
What a read! Morrison's characters are so realistic that I feel as if I know them. Maybe they live next door or down the block. I did not live during this time nor among slavers or slaves but I deeply appreciate Morrison's detailed descriptions of how people treated those they enslaved. It hurts the heart to realize all the inhuman ways people were treated. I understand but find it hard to internalize. Sethe is a strong, strong woman whose life has been turned upside down by both black and white people. The whites hurt her so deeply that she killed one of her children to protect the child from her future. The blacks were appalled that she would kill one of her own. Black women were viewed not just as workers but as breeders whose task was to bear more slaves thereby increasing the wealth of the owner. Their children were often from different fathers and they lost them before they could see them grow up. It took Paul D to help Sethe recover from all the hurt both whites and blacks inflicted upon her as well as the guilt she felt for the death of the child she loved. Yes, this is a great read!
Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.
Sethe. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery but is haunted bby its heritage. She must deal with this haunted life on every level, from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural ohio several years after the civil war, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison's greatest novel, a dazzling acheivement, and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
''BELOVED'' is Toni Morrison's fifth novel, and another triumph. Indeed, Ms. Morrison's versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, ''Beloved'' will put them to rest. In three words or less, it's a hair-raiser.
In ''Beloved,'' Ms. Morrison turns away from the contemporary scene that has been her concern of late. This new novel is set after the end of the Civil War, during the period of so-called Reconstruction, when a great deal of random violence was let loose upon blacks, both the slaves freed by Emancipation and others who had been given or had bought their freedom earlier. But there are flashbacks to a more distant period, when slavery was still a going concern in the South and the seeds for the bizarre and calamitous events of the novel were sown. The setting is similarly divided: the countryside near Cincinnati, where the central characters have ended up, and a slave-holding plantation in Kentucky, ironically named Sweet Home, from which they fled 18 years before the novel opens.
There are many stories and voices in this novel, but the central one belongs to Sethe, a woman in her mid-30's, who is living in an Ohio farmhouse with her daughter, Denver, and her mother-in-law Baby Suggs. ''Beloved'' is such a unified novel that it's difficult to discuss it without giving away the plot, but it must be said at the outset that it is, among other things, a ghost story, for the farmhouse is also home to a sad, malicious and angry ghost, the spirit of Sethe's baby daughter, who had her throat cut under appalling circumstances 18 years before, when she was 2. We never know this child's full name, but we - and Sethe - think of her as Beloved, because that is what is on her tombstone. Sethe wanted ''Dearly Beloved,'' from the funeral service, but had only enough strength to pay for one word. Payment was 10 minutes of sex with the tombstone engraver. This act, which is recounted early in the novel, is a keynote for the whole book: in the world of slavery and poverty, where human beings are merchandise, everything has its price, and price is tyrannical.
''Who would have thought that a little old baby could harbor so much rage?,'' Sethe thinks, but it does; breaking mirrors, making tiny handprints in cake icing, smashing dishes and manifesting itself in pools of blood-red light. As the novel opens, the ghost is in full possession of the house, having driven away Sethe's two young sons. Old Baby Suggs, after a lifetime of slavery and a brief respite of freedom - purchased for her by the Sunday labor of her son Halle, Sethe's husband -has given up and died. Sethe lives with her memories, almost all of them bad. Denver, her teen-age daughter, courts the baby ghost because, since her family has been ostracized by the neighbors, she doesn't have anyone else to play with.
The supernatural element is treated, not in an ''Amityville Horror,'' watch-me-make-your-flesh-creep mode, but with magnificent practicality, like the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw in ''Wuthering Heights.'' All the main characters in the book believe in ghosts, so it's merely natural for this one to be there. As Baby Suggs says, ''Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby. My husband's spirit was to come back in here? or yours? Don't talk to me. You lucky.'' In fact, Sethe would rather have the ghost there than not there. It is, after all, her adored child, and any sign of it is better, for her, than nothing.
This grotesque domestic equilibrium is disturbed by the arrival of Paul D., one of the ''Sweet Home men'' from Sethe's past. The Sweet Home men were the male slaves of the establishment. Their owner, Mr. Garner, is no Simon Legree; instead he's a best-case slave-holder, treating his ''property'' well, trusting them, allowing them choice in the running of his small plantation, and, calling them ''men'' in defiance of the neighbors, who want all male blacks to be called ''boys.'' But Mr. Garner dies, and weak, sickly Mrs. Garner brings in her handiest male relative, who is known as ''the schoolteacher.'' This Goebbels-like paragon combines viciousness with intellectual pretensions; he's a sort of master-race proponent who measures the heads of the slaves and tabulates the results to demonstrate that they are more like animals than people. Accompanying him are his two sadistic and repulsive nephews. From there it's all downhill at Sweet Home, as the slaves try to escape, go crazy or are murdered. Sethe, in a trek that makes the ice-floe scene in ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' look like a stroll around the block, gets out, just barely; her husband, Halle, doesn't. Paul D. does, but has some very unpleasant adventures along the way, including a literally nauseating sojourn in a 19th-century Georgia chain gang.
THROUGH the different voices and memories of the book, including that of Sethe's mother, a survivor of the infamous slave-ship crossing, we experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange, both at its best - which wasn't very good - and at its worst, which was as bad as can be imagined. Above all, it is seen as one of the most viciously antifamily institutions human beings have ever devised. The slaves are motherless, fatherless, deprived of their mates, their children, their kin. It is a world in which people suddenly vanish and are never seen again, not through accident or covert operation or terrorism, but as a matter of everyday legal policy.
Slavery is also presented to us as a paradigm of how most people behave when they are given absolute power over other people. The first effect, of course, is that they start believing in their own superiority and justifying their actions by it. The second effect is that they make a cult of the inferiority of those they subjugate. It's no coincidence that the first of the deadly sins, from which all the others were supposed to stem, is Pride, a sin of which Sethe is, incidentally, also accused.
In a novel that abounds in black bodies - headless, hanging from trees, frying to a crisp, locked in woodsheds for purposes of rape, or floating downstream drowned - it isn't surprising that the ''whitepeople,'' especially the men, don't come off too well. Horrified black children see whites as men ''without skin.'' Sethe thinks of them as having ''mossy teeth'' and is ready,if necessary, to bite off their faces, and worse, to avoid further mossy-toothed outrages. There are a few whites who behave with something approaching decency. There's Amy, the young runaway indentured servant who helps Sethe in childbirth during her flight to freedom, and incidentally reminds the reader that the 19th century, with its child labor, wage slavery and widespread and accepted domestic violence, wasn't tough only for blacks, but for all but the most privileged whites as well. There are also the abolitionists who help Baby Suggs find a house and a job after she is freed. But even the decency of these ''good'' whitepeople has a grudging side to it, and even they have trouble seeing the people they are helping as full-fledged people, though to show them as totally free of their xenophobia and sense of superiority might well have been anachronistic.
Toni Morrison is careful not to make all the whites awful and all the blacks wonderful. Sethe's black neighbors, for instance, have their own envy and scapegoating tendencies to answer for, and Paul D., though much kinder than, for instance, the woman-bashers of Alice Walker's novel ''The Color Purple,'' has his own limitations and flaws. But then, considering what he's been through, it's a wonder he isn't a mass murderer. If anything, he's a little too huggable, under the circumstances.
Back in the present tense, in chapter one, Paul D. and Sethe make an attempt to establish a ''real'' family, whereupon the baby ghost, feeling excluded, goes berserk, but is driven out by Paul D.'s stronger will. So it appears. But then, along comes a strange, beautiful, real flesh-and-blood young woman, about 20 years old, who can't seem to remember where she comes from, who talks like a young child, who has an odd, raspy voice and no lines on her hands, who takes an intense, devouring interest in Sethe, and who says her name is Beloved.
Students of the supernatural will admire the way this twist is handled. Ms. Morrison blends a knowledge of folklore - for instance, in many traditions, the dead cannot return from the grave unless called, and it's the passions of the living that keep them alive - with a highly original treatment. The reader is kept guessing; there's a lot more to Beloved than any one character can see, and she manages to be many things to several people. She is a catalyst for revelations as well as self-revelations; through her we come to know not only how, but why, the original child Beloved was killed. And through her also Sethe achieves, finally, her own form of self-exorcism, her own self-accepting peace.
''Beloved'' is written in an antiminimalist prose that is by turns rich, graceful, eccentric, rough, lyrical, sinuous, colloquial and very much to the point. Here, for instance, is Sethe remembering Sweet Home:
''. . . suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not want to make her scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves. Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her - remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that.''
In this book, the other world exists and magic works, and the prose is up to it. If you can believe page one - and Ms. Morrison's verbal authority compels belief - you're hooked on the rest of the book. THE epigraph to ''Beloved'' is from the Bible, Romans 9:25: ''I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.'' Taken by itself, this might seem to favor doubt about, for instance, the extent to which Beloved was really loved, or the extent to which Sethe herself was rejected by her own community. But there is more to it than that. The passage is from a chapter in which the Apostle Paul ponders, Job-like, the ways of God toward humanity, in particular the evils and inequities visible everywhere on the earth. Paul goes on to talk about the fact that the Gentiles, hitherto despised and outcast, have now been redefined as acceptable. The passage proclaims, not rejection, but reconciliation and hope. It continues: ''And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.'' Toni Morrison is too smart, and too much of a writer, not to have intended this context. Here, if anywhere, is her own comment on the goings-on in her novel, her final response to the measuring and dividing and excluding ''schoolteachers'' of this world. An epigraph to a book is like a key signature in music, and ''Beloved'' is written in major. 'OTHER PEOPLE WENT CRAZY, WHY COULDN'T SHE?'
Sethe opened the front door and sat down on the porch steps. The day had gone blue without its sun, but she could still make out the black silhouettes of trees in the meadow beyond. She shook her head from side to side, resigned to her rebellious brain. Why was there nothing it refused? No misery, no regret, no hateful picture too rotten to accept? Like a greedy child it snatched up everything. Just once, could it say, No thank you? I just ate and can't hold another bite? I am full God damn it of two boys with mossy teeth, one sucking on my breast the other holding me down, their book-reading teacher watching and writing it up. I am still full of that, God damn it, I can't go back and add more. Add my husband to it, watching, above me in the loft - hiding close by - the one place he thought no one would look for him, looking down on what I couldn't look at at all. And not stopping them - looking and letting it happen. But my greedy brain says, Oh thanks, I'd love more - so I add more. And no sooner than I do, there is no stopping. There is also my husband squatting by the churn smearing the butter as well as its clabber all over his face because the milk they took is on his mind. . . . And if he was that broken then, then he is also and certainly dead now. And if Paul D saw him and could not save or comfort him because the iron bit was in his mouth, then there is still more that Paul D could tell me and my brain would go right ahead and take it and never say, No thank you. I don't want to know or have to remember that. I have other things to do: worry, for example, about tomorrow, about Denver, about Beloved, about age and sickness not to speak of love. But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day. . . . Other people went crazy, why couldn't she? Other people's brains stopped, turned around and went on to something new, which is what must have happened to Halle. And how sweet that would have been. From ''Beloved.''
My first experience with Toni Morrison's writing was in college when the professor assigned The Bluest Eye. I don't remember much about the plot, but I do remember that it made me feel like I was in the presence of a literary great. The quality of writing was superb and even after reading a number of wonderful books that semester The Bluest Eye impressed me most. Fast forward to this year, when I first saw that Beloved was on the Fiction of Relationship reading list. I knew I was in for a treat yet at the same time was not sure that the book would live up to my inflated expectations.
When the time came to actually read the book I was relieved to see that Morrison is consistent in her ability to impress me. Her prose is beautiful in its simplicity, her characters full of life. She simply tells the story and you can't help but care about the people in it, can't help but wonder what will happen next. She doesn't try to make you like her characters, they are who they are with their complicated lives and choices, but you care about them nonetheless. The character who made the biggest impression on me was Denver because she not only had a unique way of dealing with the difficulties her life presented, but also was the one who stepped up to the challenge of Beloved's presence in the most impressive way. She started out a child younger than her 18 years, yet at the close of the novel she was transformed into a young woman more mature than her years.
The novel is set in the South before and after the Civil War and tells the stories of Sethe and other former Sweet Home slaves as they build lives for themselves on and off the farm. Their experiences, their desires and their despair are highlighted all the more by our present lives and the fact that many of the events Morrison describes are unthinkable to the present-day reader. They seem almost surreal at times, and I had to remind myself that things like what Morrison talks about did happen, and not that long ago.
I believe that a sign of a good book is that it makes you think. More often than not such books don't go down smoothly, but they sure stay with you. They make you want to ponder what's said on those pages, revisit ideas and impressions, look back at the beliefs you hold and see if they still hold up. Beloved does that, and no, it's not an easy read. Not only is it not easy, it also doesn't give up all its secrets, not even at the very end. You can turn the last page and believe what you choose about Beloved because her story doesn't really have an ending, which to me is incredibly intriguing. How do you write a story where the same events can be both supernatural and perfectly explainable? How do you create characters who are both? I don't know if Morrison's is the only way, but it sure is effective.
I've been thinking for a several days now whether I would recommend this book to a friend and I can't come up with a 'yes' or 'no' answer. On one hand it's not a straightforward book and I don't believe that someone who's looking for a straightforward story would appreciate it. On the other hand it is so well-written that I'm tempted to insist that my friends read it. So my answer would be like that flow-chart, Are you looking for a simple escapist story? Then no, you won't enjoy this novel. Are you looking for something to feed your brain and be beautiful at the same time? Then yes, this novel is for you.
Like a good curry, Beloved is a taste of powerful storytelling. Toni Morrisons poetic language immerses the reader in the story of Sethe, a slave who escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio but not free from slaverys haunting effects. The house she shares with her sole remaining child Denver born during the escape is haunted by the ghost of her baby. Things come to a boil when Paul D, a fellow slave and escapee from Sweet Home, and a mysterious young lady named Beloved arrive. Rather than chronological exposition, the characters experiences in slavery are related through twists and turns of flashbacks, amplified by the prism of what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Based on the true story of Margaret Garner, Toni Morrisons fifth novel was a great choice for Black and Womens History Months from the list of 1001 books you must read before you die.
A family built during slavery. Beloved is a story central around Sethe, a mother who is left with one daughter and the memory of the one lost. The book moves it's way through dark past and present.
I first saw the movie of Beloved. I was a fan of Oprah and was curious about the supernatural element. The premise of book and movie is very dark. Sethe is caught in her memories of the past and is missing her present life with the daughter she has. Then mysteriously a young woman appears and stays with the family, the name she goes by is Beloved.
I understood the need to go back and forth to the past and present while telling the story. As usual when I read books like this I have to go back and read words over again. I was reminded by my husband how dark the movie was and he was convinced I would not like it. It is not that I did not like in fact I do like it. I like the darkness of the story, because describes the reality of life at times.
I am also surprised to see on goodreads this considered a first book in series. As of now I do not think I will read the others in the series. I may change my mind if I see recommendations or a movie is to come out.
OK I really wanted to like this book, but after struggling through the first 1/2 I gave up. I think the story was very interesting but the writing was horrid. I can tell if I like a book as I can't wait to get back to it. This one I couldn't wait to stop reading!
I remember reading this novel years ago and being changed -- as if from the inside, some transformation. I've been thinking recently I'd like to re-read it. Then I read that "Beloved" was selected as the best work of american fiction in the past 25 years by prominent writers, editors, and critics. Wow, that's high praise. I look forward to experiencing it for the second time.
Sethe. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery but is haunted by its heritage. She must deal with this haunted life on every level, from the fires of the flash to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War This profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison's greatest novel, a dazzling achievement and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
This is my third book by Toni Morrison and by far, it is the deepest and most thought provoking for me. I found it to be confusing at times, even hard to follow but I did enjoy it. Ms. Morrison has a powerful storytelling ability!